Friends say lost kitesurfer “must have made a mistake”

While official rescue efforts were terminated Monday, failing to spot either the body or board of extreme lone kitesurfer Renārs Mileika, who was lost off the horn of Kolka Saturday afternoon when stormwinds tragically whipped him away from shore, friends and volunteers continued their search even during the nighttime hours.

Renārs was only 30 years old, but had logged plenty of expert experience with the extreme sport and its specific equipage. Those who knew him could only admit that he had likely allowed himself to make a fateful mistake this time, but that he "knew what he was doing."

Working for the third day now under windy and bone-chilling conditions they still hoped to catch sight of the small board or wetsuit-clad person in the choppy waves offshore, or perhaps washed onto the beach somewhere. The board should have held the body up like a buoy, say the victim’s fellow kiteboarders taking part in the search. Renārs is said to have released the kite that pulled him away from the shore after losing his battle with the waves at Kolka, but even in the wetsuit could not have survived the icy waters for more than a couple of hours.

His friend Āris Muitinieks, who acted as coordinator of the volunteer search and had flown Monday with National Armed Forces helicopter pilots along the entire coastline and three times around the Kolka lighthouse could only report: “We saw plenty of sea, but no Renārs.” Coast Guard ships also took part in the search.

On his part, Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Andris Skribis pointed out that it was a good thing the state Fire and Rescue Service didn't head out to try to save the kiteboarder. Otherwise, there might now be searches underway for more than just one person.

He stressed how important it was for kiteboarders themselves to be better visible – by using GPS devices on their wrists and extra-thick wetsuits.

As a last resort, the search has since focused on the Gulf of Riga village of Kaltene, where currents are expected to have possibly taken his body according to calculations.

People, both friends of Renārs as well as unrelated volunteers came from as far away as Liepāja, Jelgava and Rīga to help in the effort. Local residents including fishermen who know the waters well have also been keeping their eyes peeled for the unfortunate athlete. Experience has taught them that the sea will eventually cough up all it has swallowed, the only question being where and when. “The sea is nasty today and the weather was much worse and colder on Saturday,” said fisherman Roberts Grosbahs.

Latvia’s Kitesurfing Association board member Dzintars Aulmanis told newswire BNS that Renārs, though not a member of the organization, was a well-known expert athlete with considerable experience with the sport.

He said many people still enjoy the activity even during the winter months. “Those who don’t know might think it is something extreme to head into the waters in wintertime, but the available wetsuit equipment is meant to make this possible. It’s not as extreme as it might seem. Of course, you must observe all safety measures, particularly in cold weather.” He speculated that the combined direction and speed of the wind and currents were unfavorable, preventing Renārs from swimming back to shore while his body temperature would still have allowed him to stay active in the icy waters.

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